Reports on 2010 Transition Network Meeting

The transition network, which we have repeatedly covered on Resilience Science, had its fourth meeting recently in Devon, UK.  About 300 people from the over 300 official Transition initiatives attended the meeting in Devon.  Where they discussed peak oil, climate change, and financial crisis; but more importantly what they could do about.

Design guru and founder of sustainable design conference Doors of Perception, John Thackara discusses the meeting in Of apocalypse and forest gardens, on his site Doors of Perception.  One of the categories on his site is transition and resilience.  In his reflections he writes, among other things, about translating transition to France, and local money.

I was keen to discover if the Transition model was being, or could be, developed in France, where I live. …

It turned out that a number of early stage groups is active in France, and a francophone group in Montreal has built a comprehensive site

Exporting the Transition model in a box to France, or any other country, is not an option, we agreed. For one thing, the array of exiting sustainability and permaculture projects in France is extraordinarily rich. There are possibly more more websites, magazines and events about all things ‘developpement durable’ in France than in the UK.

On the ground, degrees of resilience already exist in parts of France without the existence of Transition initiatives. France has hundreds of thousands of active local associations; these are a form of social glue that Britain lacks.

The persistence of local food webs is another example. AMAPs (a French version of Community Supported Agriculture) are spreading fast. ‘Monnaie locale’ is being trialled in several places (see above). There is also a fast-growing debate about economic fundamentals in France in the ‘Decroisasance’ (De-Growth) movement.

So what are the gaps, that Transition-ness might fill?

What’s missing, we concluded, are three things:First, a perceptual framework, a story, that links together peak oil and energy, climate change, and the prospect of a massive financial discontinuity.

Second, France would benefit from a more explicit means to connect together and leverage the multitude of stand-alone projects that are already there.

And third, the Transition model brings with it a degree of inclusivity – of cultures, ages and backgrounds – that is uncommon in socially fragmented France.

A meeting of Transition France takes place in Trieves on 27 June.

I got back from the coppice in time to hear Peter North introduce his brand new book Local Money. Open Money is one of those subjects I’ve enthused about enthused about in print. But North has spent 14 years traveling the world – from Curitiba to Russia to Venezuela – to learn first-hand how different approaches actually work (or not).

North’s book describes in practical ways how people have coped with financial armegeddon in the past. Following economic collapse across the world, communities have often created their own forms of money. Local Money shows how people manage to make it through even when official money disappears.

There’s a database of local, open or complementary currencies here.

I pondered whether local money is necessarily hand-made and ultra-local? This being a Transition Towns gathering, I soon met a software designer, Matthew Slater, who is building customisable digital barter money platforms in Drupal. SELs (a European version of Local Economy Trading Scheme) are already being trialled in Belgium (5) France (2) Switzerland (2) and India.

Community Forge as the platform is called, is community currency trading software build on a social networking platform. This means thousands of software developers can set up similar sites, and many of them could easily modify the software. As a popular open source project, the code is very high quality and continually improving.

John Thackera also points to the transition network’s founder Rob Hopkins’ reflections on the meeting. Rob Hopkins writes:

One of my personal highlights was the response to my workshops about ‘Seeing Transition as a Pattern Language’ workshop, which introduced the work I have been doing for the past few months, exploring whether a pattern-based approach might be a more suitable way of explaining and modelling Transition.  You can hear a recording of my first workshop here, as well as see some photos.  It was great to get people’s thoughts, critiques, suggestions and input, which will be worked through over the next few months.  Thank you so much to everyone who came, and who offered their input.

Another highlight (if that’s the right word) was the talk by Stoneleigh (see left), called ”Making Sense of the Financial Crisis in the Era of Peak Oil”, which you can hear in full here.  Stoneleigh is one of two editors of the ‘Automatic Earth’ blog, and her talk was stark, stunning and very much strengthened the case that economics needs to become a third ‘leg’ of Transition alongside peak oil and climate change.  Her talk affected people deeply, and people’s reaction to it went on to become one of the things that defined the rest of the conference.  Her prognosis was that the world is on the cusp of an economic collapse on the scale of the Great Depression as the debt bubble bursts.  Not much that would have been new to Transitioners, but the way she built her argument was very compelling.  You can read Shaun Chamberlin’s reflections on her talk here, along with some insightful comments from other people.

And on Transition Culture, reflections from Sophy Banks the conference organizer. She writes about both the planning and the dynamics of running a conference focussed on learning and change:

It felt important in the design of this year’s event to include the fact that Transition has been going for four years – and that the wider context around us has moved on since we started back in 2006. I wanted there to be a journey in the flow of the three days, so that as well as sharing information and meeting people, having fun and gathering inspiration, there would be an element of deepening together, a sense of building trust and engaging with something challenging.

This was reflected in a number of new elements.

  • People were invited to form “Home Groups” at the start of the conference – about 6 people who get to know each other at the start, and meet fixed times throughout the three days, as well as meeting informally if they want to at other times.
    We scheduled a longer, 3 hour workshop session to give a chance to go deeper into topics.
    We included a session where the whole conference came together in their “Home Groups” to explore thoughts and feelings of what is really coming in the next one, five and ten years into the future. This was not a “positive visioning” session such as we often do in transition, but a wider ranging naming of what we fear as well as hope for, what could be really dangerous or challenging as well as what might not change at all, and what might transform to something wonderful.

  • In the afternoon we moved to another variation on previous conferences – workshops that lasted three hours, rather than the 1½ that we have had before. Several were specifically included to be places to continue to work with anything that had come up in the large group session, (though I think we could have done more to signpost them clearly).

    These included –

    * Somewhere to express your own, and witness others’ feelings (a Work that Reconnects “Truth Mandala”),
    * To explore more creatively Stories for Transition – using Storytelling as a way of working.
    * Workshops on Diversity, on Community and Conflict, and on Inner Transition – all pieces of building the inner structures that can help a community cope with the fall out of shocks – whether they are economic, physical, or emotional.
    * For those who wanted practical support for the Transition process we included sessions on Holding Good Meetings, the Energy Descent process.
    * And for those wanting to get on with building the business, organisations and systems we will need to create there were sessions on Working with Business, Local Food, Social Entrepreneurship, Local currencies. There were also visits to projects in Totnes and Occombe farm to see some pieces of the resilient future already up and running.

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